Collaboration involves two or more people working together to accomplish a goal. When two or more people work together the addition of ideas provides for a value-added outcome. Unfortunately, sometimes there can be differences of opinions that can lead to conflict. Mediation is one approach to resolve these types of matters. This article looks at mediation, the most common causes of conflict, and how mediation can overcome these issues.
What is mediation?
Mediation is a confidential process where a trained neutral works with the parties to ensure balanced interactions. This allows the parties to work towards a solution that is at least something both parties can live with. Often it results in a solution that is much broader than the parties first envisioned. This develops when the parties are asked questions beyond the originally defined problem and focus on a solution considering elements that may not have been considered initially. An experienced mediator familiar with the area in question can ask probing, open ended questions that may allow the parties to expand their original thinking.
A mediator is focused on slowing down the conversation. A skilled mediator checks his or her assumptions, is curious, and suspends judgment.
The parties control the process and the outcome. The parties own the result.
The mediator helps both parties to explore the facts and the issues identified by the parties beyond their factual interpretation. The mediator helps the parties explore the emotion they have behind each issue and encourages the parties to share their feelings. As facts, issues, and feeling are uncovered, the parties begin to share interests. Behind every position is at least one interest. Interests are the seeds for resolution.
Project manager conflict areas
The most common source of conflicts is miscommunication, followed by process misunderstandings, a clear mission, and interpersonal issues.
The most common conflict area in project management is miscommunication. Exploring the attitude in communication 7% is associated with the words, 38% is associated with the tone, and 55% is associated with facial expression and body language.
This means that only 7% of the attitude is being transferred with a text or email. Think about this related to generational differences. Generation Z (20 and under) and generation Y or millennials (21 to 39) generally prefer texts. Keep this in mind. This is the reason some corporations have a policy that says if you have not cleared up something with another party after two iterations back and forth with texts or email, you need to call them or speak with them virtually or in person.
Correspondingly if you pick up the phone and speak with someone you have enhanced the ability to understand attitude to 45% (7% and 38%). Clearly, if there is a conflict it is better to make the call rather than continue to send texts or emails.
However, the best approach to understanding attitude is a face-to-face meeting (preferred by generation X (40 to 55) and baby boomers (56 to 75). This provides up to a 100% understanding of attitude. Virtual meetings are not as good as face to face but are clearly better than a phone call. With virtual meetings it is possible to see at least someone’s face and part of their body, but not seeing their full body and those of others as in a face-to-face meeting is better.
Systemic issues account for up to 90% of the project management concerns compared with interpersonal issues. Understanding the roles of each party and the duties is critical. When negotiating ensure you address all 15 elements associated with being a delegator with the delegator checklist. Understanding roles and duties is critical. If someone is unsure of what to do, the nature of their authority, what they are responsible for, or the process this can lead to conflict. Going over roles and responsibilities beforehand, checking in periodically, and making sure the process is proceeding as anticipated helps. When everyone understands the process, their role, and their expected duties this can significantly improve collaboration and overcome conflict.
Often less experienced project managers believe that interpersonal issues are more significant. However, analysis by Cosby, Deming, and Juran found that 85% of the total cost of quality was a management problem. Keep this in mind when looking into questions related to quality.
What is the mission? What are we trying to do and what are you trying to do and expecting of others? Make sure everyone is on the same page and aligned in the same direction. Have a clear statement of what it is you are trying to do. Discuss this with the team. Allow them to ask you questions. Ensure you listen and address their concerns. Encourage interaction and understanding. As the project proceeds check in with others. How are they doing? What can you do to help them? By listening and demonstrating that you care, you can build trust and ensure everyone is able to contribute to the mission going forward. Be there as a servant manager.
Note that 80% of managers indicated they are transparent with their employees, but only 55% agreed. Interpersonal conflicts between peers and/or their manager can result in a serious drop in productivity. Intrapersonal conflicts are an internal conflict within yourself. Interpersonal conflict can have several sources including misunderstandings, fact conflict, value conflict, policy conflict, ego conflict, and others. Ways to address interpersonal conflict can be withdraw, accommodation, competition, compromise, or collaboration. Ensuring good communication and addressing interpersonal skills enhance collaboration.
Why mediation for project managers?
Mediation works for project managers. Here are a five of the benefits.
- Cost Effective – from the standpoint of the bottom-line mediation is far less expensive than legal costs, attorneys, travel, and opportunities lost with other alternatives. The costs are determined up front in mediation. As a project manager you are concerned with costs.
- You control the process – Unlike arbitration or court where someone else makes the decision, you control the process. The parties make the decisions. The mediator facilitates the process for the participants. The process is very flexible based on how the participants want to proceed, unlike arbitration or other legal avenues.
- It is voluntary – Mediation is voluntary. If the parties decide this is not working for them, they can withdraw from the process at any time.
- It is confidential – Confidentiality is key. The mediation cannot be brought back at a later date to say what happened during mediation. The process is not subject to disclosure. This protects everyone involved and leads to more frank discussions by the parties.
- You share interests – A skilled mediator asks appropriate questions to help the parties uncover and share interests. Interests are the key to a solution. When the parties understand each other’s interests and a solution is found, it far more likely that the solution will be carried out going forward.
Project managers should keep mediation in their toolbox. Courses are available online for mediation training. Consider researching mediation training in your area, taking a course to develop your own skills, and applying mediation with others. Training is the first step. To enhance skills, consider volunteering at a not-for-profit alternative dispute resolution organization. It is only with practice that you can truly become a skilled mediator. However, having only the training will allow you to see things differently for the better.
A trained experienced mediator can save you money, time, and resources. Consider bringing on a trained and experienced mediator to help you with any concerns. Mediation is a proactive, modern way to address conflict and promote collaboration. When everyone is aligned this promotes productivity, growth, employee satisfaction, and customer service. Clearly mediation can help project managers.
About the author
Mike Gregory is a professional speaker, an author, and a mediator. You may contact Mike directly at firstname.lastname@example.org and at (651) 633-5311. Mike has written 12 books (and co-authored two others) including his latest book, The Collaboration Effect: Overcoming Your Conflicts, and The Servant Manager, Business Valuations and the IRS, and Peaceful Resolutions that you may find helpful. [Michael Gregory, ASA, CVA, NSA, MBA, Qualified Mediator with the Minnesota Supreme Court]